[Air-L] Reminder: Information Overload? Music Studies in the Age of Abundance (8-10 Sept 2021)

Christopher Haworth littl.shyning.man at gmail.com
Fri May 7 02:15:04 PDT 2021

Information Overload? Music Studies in the Age of Abundance

8-10 September 2021, University of Birmingham

Keynote Speakers: Robin James (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)
                        Nick Seaver (Tufts University)
                        More speakers TBA

--Deadline for receipt of abstracts extended to 14 May

--Contributions will be considered for an edited volume arising from the

For those investigating any musical activity after about 1994, the main
sources of research data will not be print archives or discrete media—they
will be World Wide Web media. The Internet Archive, the web’s library,
today holds over 525 billion archived web pages, while API and post-API
archiving initiatives make social web platforms accessible as research
databases. At first glance, no other archive is more inclusive in terms of
whose voices it represents, and none more comprehensive in terms of the
insights it provides into the thoughts, desires and musical tastes of
ordinary people. To paraphrase the web historian Ian Milligan, whose recent
book provides the title and framing for this conference, we might suggest
that in its scale, granularity and plurality, the web represents the music
historian’s dream.

Yet there is good cause to be sceptical of claims to a more ‘democratic’
archive in an age of surveillance capitalism. Contrary to early hopes that
the internet would bring about greater egalitarianism, Shoshana Zuboff
argues that the political economy of contemporary digital communications is
characterised by ‘radical indifference’ in the service of maximising data
flows. The harms that algorithms perpetuate through biased and incomplete
training data suggest that visibility within the archive remains strongly
patterned according to race, gender, prosperity, ability and geography.
Intersecting with these concerns is a question of how the superficial
‘abundance’ of stories to be told about music in the last twenty-five years
impacts on questions of historical theory. Is it possible that a surfeit of
available paths through the data compensates for a lack of meaningful
historicity over the same period?

With this conference we seek to gather researchers who are interested in
the epistemological, methodological, ethical, and disciplinary problems
that arise when studying music in the age of abundance. The below questions
are intended to be indicative rather than exhaustive:

What skills and literacies are required to treat web media as primary
sources? Does treating web media as music literature prompt a further call
for musicology to reflect on its disciplinary and medial borders?

How might music historians and other researchers work with one another
towards the curation of shared datasets, mutually agreed best practices,
and a culture of collaboration? What are the barriers to these ways of
working in music studies?

What ethical and epistemological questions are raised when ordinary (and
often anonymous) people and everyday activities take centre stage in the
writing of music history?

How should music researchers navigate a ‘post-Cambridge Analytica’ world in
which platform APIs are increasingly restrictive in terms of what data they
make available? Is it necessary to work within the ‘Realpolitik’ of social
media data access, or should scholars consider the active breach of
platform rules in the public interest?

Does the World Wide Web necessitate new thinking around matters of history
and historiography? How helpful are recent attempts to periodise the last
30+ years in cultural-political terms (‘the long 1990s’, ‘the
contemporary’, etc)? Do generational politics inflect our understanding of
recent music history in new ways, or our perspectives on history as music

Paper titles and abstracts of no more than 250 words, together with a
100-word bio, should be sent to muscon2021 at contacts.bham.ac.uk by Friday
14th May 2021. Notification of acceptance will be sent via email by Monday
7th June.

Full preparations are being made for an in-person conference, however
online participation via Zoom will also be possible.

Organising committee:

Christopher Haworth
Danielle Sofer
Edward Spencer

This conference is funded by the UKRI AHRC Early Career Leadership
Fellowship, Music and the Internet: Towards a Digital Sociology of Music.

Further updates will be posted to the conference website:


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